Hildy Gottlieb's new book, The Pollyanna Principles, draws from her experience as an educator and consultant to address a real challenge for charities and other organizations working in the community—regardless of the quality of work, most efforts don’t realize significant improvement in a community’s quality of life. Check out the first part of a two-part interview we had with her.Read More
A legend at my foundation passed last week. I'm not sure how well Terrence Keenan is known outside of the health foundation world, but his amazing work in philanthropy became the basis of an award created in his name at Grantmakers in Health. He worked in philanthropy for 40 years and though his focus and committment was to the health and health care of Americans, his leadership in philanthropy spans all areas in the field. Last week I wrote about what makes a perfect 21st Century foundation. Here are Mr. Keenan's thoughts on what makes a great foundation altogether:
A great foundation is informed and animated by moral purpose.
A great foundation accepts responsibility and stewardship for pursuing these purposes.
A great foundation walks humbly with its grantees—it acknowledges that their success is the instrument of its own success.
A great foundation is deliberate. It is guided by judgment. It acts where there is a need to act. It takes necessary risks—and proceeds in the face of great odds.
A great foundation is a resource for both discovery and change. It invests not only in the identification of answers, but also in the pursuit of solutions.
A great foundation is accountable. It functions as a public trust—and places its learning and experience in the public domain.
Finally, a great foundation is self-renewing. It adheres to a constant process of self-reflection and self-assessment. It knows when it needs to change and to adopt measures to improve its performance.
More about Mr. Keenan's philosophy on health philanthropy can be found at: http://www.rwjf.org/files/publications/other/ThePromiseAtHandByTerranceKeenan.pdf
As my foundation begins it strategic planning for the future, a question was posed in a staff meeting today that got me to thinking. What are the characteristics of a great foundation in the early 21st Century?
Since I eventually want to run a foundation I have asked a similar question to myself. My past questions, though, have been more around the scenario of new leadership at an established foundation. But what if tomorrow I won one of those outrageous multi-million dollar lotteries that you hear about occasionally on the news and could start a foundation from scratch? What would it look like?
I think mine would study closely the "Tao of Trista": allow Program (and maybe even grants) staff to be outside of the office more than inside. I too believe that program staff needs to know the ins and outs of the community being served, the challenges and potential solutions, the key players and the effective organizations. They can't know that from staying inside at their desks, reviewing proposals. We would fund operational support in addition to specific programs. We would be front and center in the digital age, taking advantage of all that technology has to offer. We would be transparent, possibly even allowing the public to attend board or program review committee meetings. And we would continually learn from both the failures and the successes.
What are the characteristics of your 21st century foundation?
Unrestrict grants that you have already given to nonprofits for project-specific activities so that they are able to make mission driven choices about their activities in 2009. Too many nonprofits can't make good decisions about what programs to keep, expand, or scale back during tough economic times because they have specific funding tied to those programs. Unrestrict those grants to make sure that organizations can focus on core programs.
Use 5% as a guideline, not a rule. When times are tough be there for the organizations that you financially support, even if it means that you are spending over 5%. Foundations do not exists to make sure that they continue to exists. Their donors got a tax break to have a positive impact on our communities.
Collaborate with other foundations to achieve impact. This is not a time for us to go at this alone. Turf battles are so 2008, so find some foundations with a common vision and figure out how you can coordinate your funding for maximum impact.
Think about your non-financial resources that would be useful to your nonprofit partners. Things like lobbyists, communications expertise, space, or information. Find new ways to get these resources to nonprofits.
Release your staff from the 9 to 5. I've never been a fan of arbitrary time schedules that don't match employee or community needs. Now is the time to figure out how to realign your foundation to measure results and not just hours clocked.
They say people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. As a new foundation head, I'm working on implementing all of these ideas in my foundation. It isn't easy, but it's necessary.
What other things would you like to see foundations implement in 2009?